A couple of years ago, my husband, Tom Claus and I spent three fantastic days in Asheville, NC, home to the Biltmore House. The place is awesome. It is the largest privately-owned home in the United States. The 250-room mansion features 33 family and guest bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool with electric underwater lights and a bowling alley. We took an architectural tour and got to see behind the scenes.
A cozy room at the Biltmore
George W. Vanderbilt III knew what he was doing. His inheritance was less than his siblings, but he managed well. He called in the prominent New York architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in the Chateauesque style, using several Loire Valley French Renaissance architecture chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois as models. The house has similar features as France’s Chateau Chambord. He closely copied the staircase of the Chateau de Blois. The estate includes its own village, today named Biltmore Village, and a church in town, known today as the “Cathedral of All Souls.”
Christmas entry Hall
The collections at the house are priceless furnishings and artworks. The house is equipped with every convenience from elevators to refrigerators. The surrounding grounds, designed by prominent landscape architect, who also designed New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, are impressive, encompassing 125,000 acres of forests, farms and a dairy, a 250-acre wooded park, five pleasure gardens and 30 miles of macadamized roadways.
Biltmore House was his country home, a respite away from city life, and a place for his mother when she visited the hot springs in the area. It became an American icon. Unfortunately, after his death and the passing of his wife, Edith Vanderbilt, it became run down, like other historic sites. Developers offered to buy 12,000 acres to build subdivisions. But George’s great-grandson, William A. V. Cecil, Jr. thought not. By the 1950’s Cecil had started a restoration project. The treasure was to remain with the Vanderbilt family.
Jan Aertsen van der Bilt had emigrated to this country from Holland around 1650. They prospered as farmers on Staten Island, New York and lived modestly. It was only during the lifetime of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) that the family name became synonymous with extraordinary wealth. It was especially important to me to visit this architectural wonder, not only architecturally, but to follow the trek of the Vanderbilt family. My affiliation with the 1867 Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, CT connects me to the Vanderbilt name through the business relationship of Cornelius (aka as the Commander) and LeGrand Lockwood, same as the mansion mentioned above.
eBook, print book, audio book
Lagoon View Fall
The Osprey, with its wide wingspan, zoomed down into the lagoon, feet first, from its nesting place nearby. The silent spring was interrupted by the rattle of wings. From her place on the rock, Cornelia raised her eyes to the sound. Her arm was suddenly jerked by the leash in her hand. Holding onto it, she followed the dog’s trail to see the Osprey’s catch.
Cornelia, the only daughter of the eminent George Vanderbilt, was raised in this palatial atmosphere. George, the builder of Biltmore and the great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, opened his country estate to friends, family and heads of states.
The tale above tells us a little about George’s daughter Cornelia and her precious puppy…and according to history, George’s father, William Henry Vanderbilt, continued the legacy of the Vanderbilt empire in railroad and shipping created by the Commodore. He doubled the value of the Vanderbilt lines, to approximately two hundred million dollars.
The 1989 book “The Vanderbilts” by Jerry E. Patterson, states, “They were, and remain today, among the richest families in the world, and they lived as the world expected them to, lavishly and publicly.”
Biltmore Christmas Fantasy
George Vanderbilt, through his inheritance, in 1888 purchased the land that would ultimately become the Biltmore.
George Vanderbilt first welcomed guests to the Biltmore House on Christmas Eve 1895. Today, that tradition is kept alive each year as the Biltmore House is filled with hundreds of trees and garlands from the area. Each year, the 34-foot-tall Banquet Hall Christmas tree wows Biltmore’s guests.
During Candlelight Christmas Evenings, the Oak Sitting Room glows in the light from candles and matching fireplaces at either end of the room
Oak Sitting Room
The glow of hundreds of lights and a roaring fire illuminate George Vanderbilt’s Library during Christmas at Biltmore.
The Tapestry Gallery during Christmas shines in tones of green, blue and gold. The tapestries reach from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. We breathed in the beauty.
During our stay, Tom and I were treated royally. We enjoyed the warmth and wonder of Candlelight Christmas.
The Banquet Hall is 72 feet long, 42 feet wide and 70 feet high. It could seat up to 64 guests.
Mr. Vanderbilt's Bedroom
George Vanderbilt’s bedroom, in red with deep rich wood- toned furnishings of Victoriana.
Mrs. Vanderbilt's Bedroom
Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom is dressed with contrasting fabrics in yellow and black. The French furnishings painted white add a country flavor, an informality in contrast to the formality found throughout the home.
The Winter Garden is located in the front hall. In November when we visited, the garden was filled with Christmas, decorated with Christmas trees, plants, poinsettias, musicians, choirs of high school angels and more.
Thanks to LeeAnn Donnelly, Senior Public Relations Manager at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC, for permission to use the Biltmore images.